Imo governor, Rochas Okorocha has taken what qualifies as a politically audacious step in ensuring that the militia boys in the Niger-Delta are called off the oil rich creeks and made to embrace peace by submitting their arms to designated authorities and committing to peace initiatives of the government. By this step, the government in Imo State has sent a signal to Abuja that it is possible to really wrest our economy from the hands of these militants and restore Nigeria’s status as Africa’s biggest economy and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The Governor has also made a statement that it does not and should not always take the federal government to initiate peace missions of that nature. Already the governor of Rivers State, Barrister Nyesom Wike has followed the lead set by the Imo Governor and begun an amnesty initiative to call off the avengers from the creeks. This is no doubt laudable.
No matter how we try to pretend about it, peace in the Niger-Delta region is crucial to the economic recovery which the present administration passionately pursues. The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has recently blamed the activities of the Niger-Delta militants for the slide into recession of Africa’s biggest economy and for the various economic hiccups the country is presently experiencing.
It is an indication of the misfortune in leadership that we have had over a period of time that oil revenue still accounts for a major bulk of our country’s revenue, thereby making it impossible for the government to meet up with some of its most fundamental obligations to the people whenever any mishap befalls our oil industry. Had the operators of our government invested more in seeking alternatives to oil, the problem of militancy would not have arisen in the first place, because youths in these oil producing areas would know that without the oil, government will still be able to meet up with its responsibilities.
Identifying the source of a problem is the first step towards solving that problem. The government at the center has through its second-in-command declared that militancy in the Niger-Delta is the major reason why Nigeria is passing through the difficulty it is facing at present. By this statement, the federal government is saying that should the problem of militancy be taken care of, Nigeria will not only be out of recession, but our economy will also be positioned for full recovery. While this may not be completely true, as a former Central Bank Governor and incumbent Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has squealed that oil contributes just about fifteen percent to the Nigerian economy, arguing that that there are other sectors of the economy that may be explored by the present federal government to ensure that our economy is cured from its ailments, it is not arguable that smooth operations within our oil sector is crucial to the survival of our economy.
Nigeria is not new to militancy in its Niger-Delta region. Long before anything about Boko Haram was heard, the Niger-Delta militants had started troubling the Nigerian nation, embarrassing its expatriates and almost bring the country’s oil output to zero. The military was deployed, and there were even massacres of innocent lives, including pregnant women, children and even the aged, all in a bid to rein in the activities of these people who prefer to identify themselves as freedom fighters, but whom the government address with all kinds of aliases including; economic saboteurs, terrorists and even criminals. What you choose to call them depends on which side of the truth you are. For me, they are all that they call themselves and all that the government calls them. This is because there cannot be an doubt that there are many fighters among these militants who are genuinely aggrieved over the activities of expatriate companies in their communities, while there are people, especially among the militia leaders who are common criminals trying to exploit the innocence and grievances of the genuine fighters for their selfish economic and or political advantage.
Apart from the economic sabotage brought about by the activities of these militants, far-reaching health challenges are also associated with their activities. The environmental degradation and pollution caused by the activities of these militants is hardly quantifiable. Agriculture which is another veritable source of revenue generation to the country and a viable means of livelihood to the locals is also affected as many farmlands are destroyed by oil spill coming from burst pipes and destruction of other oil installations. Jobs are lost in their thousands as many expatriate oil companies who close their businesses will certainly lay off their workers, while the opportunities of recruiting new workers is lost. One can a take a whole book to discuss the pains caused by militancy in the Niger-Delta, but the facts will not be exhausted.
The government will be wrong to assume that any amount of military force can succeed in crushing the Niger-Delta rebellion.
Recent history has shown that even the most rugged military band has not succeeded in quelling a rebellion which has any little credibility. If the military can quell such rebellion then the massacre at Odi and Zaki-Ibiam should have made Niger-Delta militancy a story to be only found in books and maybe tapes. Instead that massacre stoked more desperate revolt from the creeks, and this continued till the administration of Late President Umoru Yaradua found a way to get these militants to a round table. Peace was negotiated, arms were submitted and a deal which includes the sponsorship of repentant militants to further their education in universities abroad, skill acquisition training and payment of stipend which cost the Federal Government more than 500 Million Dollars annually, insured that there was relative peace in the region. This relative peace in turn helped to raise Nigeria’s oil output to an all-time high, while foreign direct investments flowed into the country in an unprecedented rate.
The change of government affected the sustainability of the Amnesty program, hence, derailing some of the gains already made by previous government. Since January this year, more than ten new groups have sprung up from the Niger-Delta, blowing up pipelines and threatening the peace of the country, especially the Niger-Delta. The activities of these groups have led to the shutting down of some oil companies, while foreign investors are deterred from bringing their investments to the country. This is where one can understand Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s claim that the Niger-Delta militancy contributed in no small way to Nigeria’s economy going into recession. It is not just about the pipelines they blow up, nor is it about the drop in Nigeria’s oil output which their activities bring about, but also about the drastic drop in Nigeria’s FDI and the closure of many indigenous and foreign businesses in the country.
Governor Okorocha has taken the bull by the horn by cornering some a sect within the notorious avengers’ militia group who like to call themselves, the Imo Avengers. Like the previous government of Late President Yaradua, the Governor had to send some of his officials who hail from the area and have access to the leaders of the militant group to initiate the process of reintegrating them into the society and returning peace to the region.
Some journalists who covered the event which took place at the Government House Owerri reported the submission of different sizes and makes of assault rifles, machine guns and grenades by these repentant militants, while the number of young militants who came out for the exercise can be said to be encouraging.
What should be important to all lovers of peace in the country and the State in particular is the fact that, a group of our people has eventually embraced peace after a period of blowing up pipelines, killing and maiming innocent citizens while grinding local businesses to a halt. This amnesty will also help to save the lives of many of these youths and help many of them to rediscover their potentials in life and put in their best towards being more useful to their immediate environment, Imo State and Nigeria at large.
The Federal Government will do well by borrowing a leaf or two from the Chairman of the Progressive Governor’s Forum on how to effectively quell the crisis in this oil region, for the benefit of the entire country.
NIGERIA MUST PREVAIL!
By: Onwuasoanya FCC Jones